Meet MINNA Founder & Shop Owner, Sara Berks

Take a tour of MINNA: a line of home goods and retail shop with practices rooted in design traditions and a businesses model made for the future.
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MINNA started out as a line of handmade home goods with one woman, Sara Berks, behind the scenes. It has now evolved into a beautiful brick and mortar space in upstate New York that houses the retail shop, plus the company's studio and fulfillment. We recently spoke to Berks and got a tour of the newly expanded headquarters. 

MINNA's designs are instantly recognizable which is in large part due to Sara's strong aesthetic vision and the Bauhaus influences in her work - but it's the ethos behind the company that we find most exciting. Embedded in the MINNA mission statement is this sentence "We are a queer woman-owned and majority queer or woman operated business, which informs our approach to just about everything we do." This and Sara's commitment to creating "ethically made home goods using traditional crafting techniques" implemented through artisan collaborations. That, in our minds, is reflective of what makes MINNA the company model of the future.

We are big fans of life pivots, be it personal, professional, emotional, etc. You made a rather big, and some might say risky, career pivot when starting MINNA. Can you share the circumstances that led up to that transition and how you decided to leave your full-time position and later subsequently start a line (after learning to weave)?

When I left my previous career, I didn’t know what I was going to do next. All I knew was that I needed a break from the digital design world. It was hyper-masculine and exhausting and to me, unrewarding. I intentionally gave myself time to figure that out. 

I was in a really privileged position with my job experience in that I could freelance to support myself. Freelancing could happen on my own timeline and in the time I had off, I taught myself to weave. A series of of serendipitous events led to travel opportunities to learn about the weaving communities and techniques in Latin America. After I realized I loved textiles and learning about the artisan sector, I dove in head first. I knew it was a risk, but I also knew I could freelance while I got things off the ground. I felt like the true risk was actually 3 years in when I stopped freelancing. But, by that time, I already knew I had a viable business.

 

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Your powerful mission statement includes the following sentence, which we love: "We are a queer woman-owned and majority queer or woman operated business, which informs our approach to just about everything we do." I would love to know more about how being a "queer woman-owned and majority queer woman operated business" informs how you run and operate your business.

I think it’s important to acknowledge the roots where someone comes from when talking about work. Being queer informed a lot of my life decisions and the way I interact with the world and build relationships. It felt natural to me that it would also impact the way I think about work and business. I took my team on a retreat late last year where I talked a lot about this concept. In the business sense, I see queer as questioning the status quo. Businesses can be used to do such horrible things and I’m trying to use business to be good. I really think it’s possible. We’re always trying to see if there’s a different or better way to do everything we do.

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MINNA has a beautiful and distinct aesthetic. There is a shop in my neighborhood that carries your line and each time I am there, without fail, I find myself picking up something made by you all. Where do you find the inspiration for the designs?

Everywhere! I’m incredibly inspired by the techniques that we use to make our products. My designs themselves are inspired by things I’ve seen, landscapes, feminist art, and the Bauhaus. I refer to The Bahuas a lot in my work, both in the actual aesthetic but also the concept of the movement.

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Tell us about your flagship shop in Hudson, NY: How did it evolve and when did it open?

The space is really big and we divided it up so that about 30% of the space was our store and the rest was our studio and fulfillment. A year in, we pushed the wall back a little bit. And then a few months ago, we moved our studio and fulfillment to a completely different space which allowed us to nearly double the footprint of the store. The store opened in 2017, about 3 years into the business and a year or so into my living upstate. Looking at photos of the store the first few days, it looked so empty! I really didn’t know what I was doing when I opened  just as I didn’t know what I was doing when I started the business - but I learned! The space is really big and we divided it up so that about 30% of the space was our store and the rest was our studio and fulfillment. A year in, we pushed the wall back a little bit. And then a few months ago, we moved our studio and fulfillment to a completely different space which allowed us to nearly double the footprint of the store.

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You work with artisans across the globe to produce your products. Can you walk us through that process, from design to delivery, including how you choose who you will collaborate with and how you support their craft and lifestyle. 

We actually only work in Latin America! It’s been a conscious decision to stick with that, for now at least. There’s so much opportunity there and possibility for creation! Before beginning a design, I always try to meet the artisan who will be making it and truly understand the techniques they are using. I don’t usually like to design without a process in mind. So, in that way, everything we make is really intended for the technique it’s made by. 

My design process usually starts with selecting a color palette, exploring that palette through painting or weaving, and then translating to digital designs to send to the artisans. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, the design process happens in the actual workshop, at the looms. We usually sample products a few times before finalizing and moving into photography, marketing, etc. When selecting artisans to partner with, I’m always conscious of their capacity, their interest in innovation, and their immediate needs.

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What can we look forward to seeing from MINNA in the months, years to come?

Well, I’m answering these questions from Mexico where I’ll spending the next three or so months deepening our collaborations here and hopefully starting new ones. So, probably lots of new products from Mexico! And hopefully more stores. 

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